In 1984, Ghostbusters was unearthed to an unsuspecting public. Wait, are you in the Brazil thread? Yeah, you are, this is just setting a time and place. Ghostbusters has some serious anti-establishment anti-government libertarian tendencies under its hood. The private Columbia University doesn’t recognize the genius of these scientists. Ray Stantz gets 3 mortgages on his family home. The public library tries to neuter Dr. Venkman’s interrogation of the opening scene librarian. The EPA, with the help of the police, shuts down the ghost entrapment machine releasing all of the spectral energy back into the city at once. The mayor is an easily manipulated charlatan who cares more about his public image than doing what’s right. Even the stuffy manager of the hotel tries to not pay the bill until the Ghostbusters threaten to re-release Slimer back into the hotel (after destroying their gorgeous ballroom).
If Ghostbusters could be construed as anti-government, wait til you get a load of Brazil, released in 1985.
Originally titled 1984 ½, Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s second entry in his Trilogy of Imagination. Time Bandits was for the blossoming creative youth neglected by his shallow zombie parents, and Brazil is for the unmarried middle-aged man having a crisis about his station in life. If Time Bandits could arguably be set in the then-present (the bookend family scenes should be taken as the main setting), Brazil moves ahead to a dystopic near future where an authoritative government has run out of control.
Like much of Terry Gilliam’s body of work, Brazil is undeniably anti-authoritarian, this time documenting the mid-life crisis that happens when a government mistake results in a dead body and a man realizes that he’s actually part of the system. Sam (Jonathan Pryce) is a cog in the machine at the Ministry of Information; he’s little more than an aimless shiftless lapdog for the manager who barely knows how to use the computer. A feckless drone by day, Sam dreams of being an armored wing warrior flying free as a bird and falling in love with a gorgeous blonde angel. In real life, that angel is a cigarette smoking short-haired truck driver who also happens to be the upstairs neighbor of the government mistake. Jill is trying to get to the bottom of the wrongful arrest, torture and death of Archibald Buttle, but is stymied by the various ministries demanding forms and stamps at every turn.
On his own, Sam is a somewhat useful but unremarkable cog. He gets his work done and is all too willing to adjust to all of the government’s random setbacks. When his automatic coffee maker pours coffee onto his toast instead of in his cup, he just shoves the soggy bread into the trash and moves on with his day. After all, The Powers That Be must know what is absolutely best for everybody, right? This society has been around so long that they’ve had to make major adjustments to their living conditions, but they have chosen the cheapest way possible. Citizens decorate the air ducts penetrating living spaces and restaurants as constant reminders of the cheap adjustments made to their life. Nobody has bothered to develop larger computer screens, so the citizens just place large magnifying glasses in front of the monitors. Keyboards are hackjobs from old typewriters. The interoffice messaging system is the same delivery system used at banks for Drive Thru windows. Sam is accustomed to these adjustments until the day he sees Jill when he starts falling to pieces (along with his apartment).
In this near future, the wealthy are well connected to political figures and throw extravagant parties to celebrate their latest rounds of plastic surgery. Meanwhile, society is plagued by regular bombings which could either be the work of impoverished pissed off citizens or the government striking fear into the hearts of the public. The impoverished live in slum projects with broken doors and cars lit on fire. Wait…holy shit…
Brazil is a movie for our time. Our government has been piecemealing band-aids and minor repairs on our system to keep things running, but all the while creating a force of oppression that stymies true activism. Back when Occupy Wall Street was a thing, the police silenced their collective protesting through permitting and militaristic operations. Even last week, peaceful protesters in Phoenix were met with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. The government is too lazy to fix things correctly, and we’re left with a stockpile of piecemeal legislation that does more damage than good. Our economic stratification is beyond unsustainable. Yet we can’t say anything because we’d fear angering the Job Creators.
If Time Bandits gave us King Agamemnon and the Supreme Being as examples of justifiable authority, there’s no such relief to be found in Brazil. Sam is rekindling the anti-authoritarian self that loomed in Kevin’s mind in Time Bandits, but the authority figures here are far more unjustifiably benign. They murder innocent people and pass the buck. Even though there’s a corpse floating around (“What did you do with his body?!”), the biggest worries are getting a receipt for the check and filling out the paperwork for a missing transport vehicle.
Still, Sam isn’t exactly doing right by himself. He loses a folder full of private papers, overestimates his level of paranoia, and murders some on duty police officers by dropping a house in front of them during a car chases he initiated. If Sam had kept his head down and continued working in peace, perhaps Jill would still be alive at the end of the movie.
Instead, Jill and the renegade Archibald Tuttle are Brazil‘s King Agamemnon. Jill is the object of Sam’s desire, and she’s always working toward some sort of social justice. She wants justice for Mrs. Buttle, wife of the wrongfully accused. She wants to help the victims of a bombing. She chastises Sam for dropping the house and mindlessly working toward government ends. Jill is the closest to a moral center this movie has, and she’s barely in it. Tuttle, a renegade heating engineer, is the anti-authoritarian libertarian soul of the film. He’s operating without a license (see Ghostbusters), and is ready to take the man down in a Batman flight of fancy. But, is he right or just? We may never learn.
Instead of being stuffed full of people who are acting for the better good, Brazil is packed to the gills with immoral horrorshows who are always looking out for their own self interests and peace of mind. They’re just cogs in the machine too; a machine that has no single architect who owned it. If all this sounds cynical, wait until you get to the end, a joke pulled on ignorant audience waiting for that expected ending of satisfaction. There is no redemption to be found. Just more anti-authoritarianism.